Film and Leisure

Honouring local Yiddish music legend David Botwinik

In his 35 years as a music teacher and choir director at Montreal Jewish day schools, Vilna-born David Botwinik taught more than 30,000 students. He has also written scores of Yiddish songs, which have been circulated around the world. Botwinik

Now 90 years of age, the longtime Côte Saint-Luc resident (right) was honoured on, June 17  at the second annual International Yiddish Theatre Festival at the Segal Centre of the Performing Arts.   For the first time  he actually witnessed a concert featuring his very own music performed by internationally acclaimed soprano Lisa Willson, pianist Elena Berman and special guest Philip Goldig.

This concert was in celebration of Botwinik’s new book, From Holocaust to Life (Fun khurbn tsum lebn), now in its second printing. The book, which was available for purchase, contains a collection of 56 original musical compositions. These are new Yiddish songs and solo and choral works, with lyrics by various Yiddish poets, complete with English translations, piano accompaniments, and chords

Lou Burko, the retired music director at Shaare Zion Congregation in Montreal, calls Botwinik’s book a “formidable opus " and “a musical biography of David Botwinik's life,”  
Botwinik retired in 1991 after a career at the Jewish  People’s and Peretz Schools  (JPPS) and United Talmud Torahs. But working closely with one of his three sons Alexander, now a Yiddish teacher  at the University of Pennsylvania in  Philadelphia, he has kept busy writing music and of course his book. He does not use a computer, so he writes everything by hand and sends it by mail to Alexander.

“I transcribed his handwritten scores onto the computer using music engraving software and painstakingly added the lyrics under the notes in both Yiddish and transliteration,” Alexander explains. “I also did the book design and layout and worked on translating the song lyrics together with my wife, Naomi Cohen and my brother Leybl. Since the book came out last summer, I have continued to be involved with publicity, arranging quite a few interviews and concerts devoted to my father's music.” 

David Botwinik came to Canada in 1956  with his wife Silvana, who had been hidden in a church with other Italian Jews during the German occupation of Italy. The couple still live in the same  Côte Saint-Luc home where they raised their family.

Botwinik says he is not finished yet. He plans to start working on a book about the Holocaust, including stories his own family may have not yet heard before.

I was pleased to be at the event and asked to say a few words about David Botwinik, whom I have known since childhood. My friends and I used to play street hockey right in front of his house.  Mr. Botwinik has been known to attend some Côte Saint-Luc city council meetings.  Last week I met him at the grocery store. He was purchasing a loto ticket.

Mazel tov to you David!

A video interview with Jacob from Lost, Mark Pellegrino

When the cult hit television show Lost  concluded its dramatic six  year run last May, as a devoted fan I went into withdrawal. Recently, I received the DVD box set of the final season. That helped  ease the pain a bit.  In November  I met the man who played the pivotal role of Jacob, actor Mark Pellegrino. He was in Montreal shooting the much anticipated new original drama called  Being Human, a North American version based on the British series. Look for it on SPACE TV in Canada and t he SyFy Network in the USA in January. After I interviewed him for my column in    The Suburban Newspaper  my friend and colleague Daniel Smajovits, helped me film this chat with “Jacob.”

Although Pellegrino only joined Lost at the very end of the second to last season, his character was the key to making sense of all of the plotline mysteries. Meeting him was a real thrill, Ever since Lost ended its run I held out hope that I would meet a cast member and be able to ask them the same kinds of questions all fans had on their minds. Pellegrino was an absolute delight: polite, humorous and very open. We met in the lobby of his hotel. He was wearing glasses and reading a book. When he stood up I was surprised to see how tall he was – six-foot-three- and in what phenomenal physical condition he’s in.

Star Hollywood producer/director Shawn Levy visits hometown

I had the opportunity to meet one of Hollywood’s most successful producer/directors this week in Shawn Levy (shown with me below), a native Montrealer who was in town to attend the 25th anniversary of his St.  George’s School of Montreal class of 1985 high school reunion.  Upon the request of Head of School James Officer, Levy agreed to chat with present-day students from his alma mater – many of whom reside in Côte Saint-Luc, Hampstead and Westmount. Despite the fact there were only a few days notice and it was on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon, the St. George’s theatre on The  Boulevard was packed to capacity.MikeShawnLevy

Levy spent his time recounting some anecdotes and answering questions about some of his most notable films. These include the two Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen and Night of The Museum movies with Ben Stiller, as well as Date Night. He is presently working out of New York City with none other than Steven Spielberg on the drama Real Steel, starring Hugh Jackman. The Hardy Men, starring Tom Cruise and Stiller is in pre-production.  For a complete list of his movies click here.

I asked Levy about the controversy that surrounded the second Night of the Museum movie to switch locations from Montreal to Vancouver upon the request of Stiller. “There have been a lot of venomous stories about Ben’s request to switch locations,” he says. “The truth is he had two young kids and he did not want to be filming on the other side of the continent. Being in Vancouver, he, like I, could commute back and forth to California easily. He is one actor who had the clout to make such a request

Levy is one of the most commercially successful film directors of the past decade. To date, his films have grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide. From St. George’s, he went directly to Yale University where he later graduated at the age of 20 from their Drama Department.  He later studied film in the Masters Film Production Program at USC, where he produced and directed the short film Broken Record.  This won the Gold Plaque at the Chicago Film Festival, in addition to being selected to screen at the Director’s Guild of America.

“I was really driven from a young age,”  said the 42 year old Levy. “When I was 10, I was taking theatre class and asked the teacher what the best place to go study acting was. She said Yale and in my last year of high school that was the only place I applied to. That was kind of psychotic. I did not even apply to CEGEP.”

In his talk at St. George’s, Levy did not forget about his roots. “This school fostered my creativity,” he said. “It was a great place to start.”

Levy also told a story about his Grade 11 class trip to Quebec City where he decided to do something wild and threw a bed out of his hotel room. “I was with my brother and some friends and said, ‘Let’s do something wild,’ and we were kicked off the trip.”

Levy conceded that there will not likely be a third Pink Panther starring Steve Martin as Clouseau. But for fans of the Night at the Museum franchise, there is hope of another sequel.

I absolutely loved Martin in the lead role and I asked him about the scene in the first Pink Panther where Clouseau was trying to pronounce the word “hamburger.”  First he laughed and then responded how “there is no other scene I have ever done that I am asked about more. Steve Martin and I were having lunch one day and he suggested that Clouseau get an accent coach. Martin conceded that he did not know what he would say. “Get two chairs and lots of film in the camera,” he told me. “It was done in one take.”

In addition to his directing slate, Levy is developing several films to produce through his production company, 21 Laps Entertainment, which is housed at Fox. These projects include The Ten Best Days of My Life (with Amy Adams), Neighbourhood Watch, The Devil You Know and How to Talk to Girls for Fox; and Arden for New Regency, Men of Magic for Universal; The Berenstain Bears for Walden; and The Spectacular Now and Table 19 for Fox Searchlight.

What does Levy miss most about Montreal? “The Snowdon Deli,” he responded. “As soon as I am picked up at the airport that is the first place I want to go for a karnatzel.”

Perhaps owner Ian Morantz should offer his place as a location for a future Levy movie, to be shot in Montreal.

Lies My Father Told Me -The Sequel?

Last week’s DVD launch of the classic Montreal made film Lies My Father Told Me at CinemaSpace of the Segal Centre for the Arts had those in attendance waxing nostalgic.

There were three separate screenings, one by invitation-only and two for the general public, which sold in the days leading up to the event. At the former, actress Marilyn Lightstone who played one of the lead roles of Annie Herman took part in a wonderful question and answer period with co-producer Harry Gulkin, Cleo Paskal (who played three year old Cleo in the film) and through the magic of skype star Jeffrey Lynas (the lead as five year old David). Subsequent launches are planned for Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.Lies Group  

When I spoke to Lightstone and Gulkin afterwards I asked them both why there had never been a sequel to this 1976 Golden Globe Award winning film about a young boy’s special relationship with his grandfather and his lack of one with his dad. “You’re a writer,” Lightstone pointed out. “Maybe you can come up with something. Send it to me. Maybe we can get someone interested.”

There are no shortage of Jewish film executives in Montreal. Certainly one of  them would like the idea! Lies My Father Told Me takes place in 1920s Montreal. So fast forward 35 years and we are in the late 1950s. What would the storyline entail? Here is how I see it.

Annie Herman and her awful husband Harry (Len Burman) are miraculously still married. Harry, who was always trying to hatch a get rich scheme, is estranged from his son David. Lynas, now a film and television executive for E-1 Entertainment in Los Angeles, was asked at last week’s event  whether he’d ever make a comeback. He said that when he turned 18 he realized he did not see a future as an actor and pursued work on the other side of the camera.

I am sure Lynas could be coaxed back for the sequel as the father of two young children. In my  Lies My Father Told Me 2 (or More Lies My Father Told Me) David maintains a close relationship with his mother. He still thinks back constantly to the days with his Zaida and the neglect he experienced from his dad. But when he sees his two young children begin to bond with his father he wonders how it is possible for a man to show no care for his own child yet express so much love for his grandchildren. Ultimately David and Harry develop a new understanding of each other.

Gulkin, who at 82 remains as sharp as ever, should be enlisted as a special consultant. Watching last week’s DVD launch with great interest was noted Montreal film and television producer Ina Fichman.

“So Ina, would you be involved in a sequel?” I asked.

She smiled, but did not say “no!”

Soon Dustin Hoffman will star alongside Paul Giamatti  in Barney’s Version, an adaptation of the book of the same name by the late Mordecai Richler. Hoffman will play the father of Giamatti’s title character, Barney Panofsky, a TV producer whose colourful life story, including three marriages and a position as prime suspect in the murder of his best friend, is told in flashback . The movie was shot partly in Montreal and has a significant Jewish cast.  Let us follow how well it does at the box office, as well as paying attention to any buzz resulting from the Lies My Father Told Me DVD. As an entirely new generation gets the chance to be exposed to this amazing film, the appetite for a sequel may indeed grow.

Well, I think I have completed Lightstone’s assignment. Time for her and Fichman to get to work! I am on board to help with the screenplay.

Pictured left to right in the photo are:

 Ezra Soiferman (CinemaSpace Director), Marilyn Lightstone (Lies star), Bryna Wasserman (Segal Centre Artistic Director), Eric Goldman (Ergo Media, DVD Distributor), Harry Gulkin (Lies Producer), Hila Feil (DVD restorer), Cleo Paskal ("Cleo" in Lies), Gerry Feil (DVD restorer). Photo taken in CinemaSpace at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, 1/25/10 by Nicola Zavaglia.

Actress Marilyn Lightstone thrilled with Lies DVD

In Lies My Father Told Me, noted Montreal-born actress Marilyn Lightstone plays one of the starring roles of Anna Herman.

Co-producer Harry Gulkin says Lightstone was right for the role of the mother. Her strength as an actress had been tested in many demanding stage and film roles. In Lies My Father Told Me, her mobile features express and reflect all the trials and tenderness felt by a young woman who is at once wife, daughter, and mother.

Lightstone, a multi‐talented artist, won accolades for her work as Annie . She was also seen in such films as "In Praise of Older Women" (1978), and "The Tin Flute/Bonheur D’Occasion" (1983). She distinguished herself in theatre, starring as Leah in the Los Angelesproduction of "The Dybbuk" playing in New York opposite Lee J. Cobb in "King Lear" and as Masha in Chekhov's "The Seagull" at the Stratford Festival. On television, she co‐starred as Miss Stacy in both the Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea series and made guest appearances on Cheers, Cagney and Lacey, Street Legal and E.N.G. She has written scripts for television and her first novel, Rogues and Vagabonds, received much acclaim. She was the founding "Voice of Bravo", Canada's NewStyleArts Channel where she currently hosts a series called Playwrights and Screenwriters.

Lightstone grew up in Montreal, initially in the Plateau on Clark Street and then in Snowdon. She got an Arts degree from McGill and was a member of the second graduating class of the National Theatre School, moving to Toronto in 1964

What effect did being part of the cast of Lies My Father Told Me have on her career? "Lies My Father Told Me was my first film role after eight years of stage work and it established me as a film actress," she said. "That is not just because I was on the screen, but because it was such a fine and special film and one which would continue to be meaningful, not just for the Jewish community, but in the history of Canadian film. In other words, it had legs."

Lightstone (pictured below in a scene from the movie) is thrilled about the DVD release. "People have been wanting their own copy for years and now it is finally possible," she remarked.MarilynLightstone

It has been a few years now since Lightstone, now 69, had her last TV role. "There are very few roles for women my age, and when there is one they're usually looking for a tsekrocheneh oldster , preferably one with a Yiddish accent who can play stereotypical bubbies. To cast that, they can do far better than me because  I don't fit the bill, and it's not that interesting to me.

Lightstone says she spends half of her time researching, writing and recording her radio show, which is on for two hours every night and which can be heard at between 11p.m. and 1 a.m. Toronto time anywhere in the world. The other half is spent in her studio where she work on the visual arts - painting and photography, and sometimes the two together. "When I was a child I thought I was going to be a painter," she says. Samples of her work can be seen at

"Rest assured, that should something really interesting come along I would be most interested in acting again, but I'm not sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring," she says.

Please read the article below about Lies My Father Told Me and the memories it evoked about my own grandfather.